Three National League pitchers under the age of 26 rank among the top 12 at the position over the past 15 days, and all three are available in some number of ESPN leagues. Which pitcher do you trust more for the rest of the season and beyond between Sean Newcomb, Nick Pivetta and Kyle Freeland and why?
Tristan H. Cockcroft: Instinctually, I feel like the answer here is Newcomb by a pretty decent margin -- and my most recent rankings set from last week reflects that -- but the closer I look, the more I think Newcomb versus Pivetta is a compelling debate and very close. Freeland, unfortunately, has the significant disadvantage of pitching half his games at Coors Field, and he'd need to miss more bats in order for me to trust him at the valuation levels of either of the other two.
Newcomb has a better four-seam fastball than Pivetta and a better changeup than either pitcher, with his FanGraphs runs above average scores for either (7.5 and 1.7) reflecting that (Pivetta's four-seam fastball has been worth 9.4 runs above average), and the combination of the two gives him the best overall package to neutralize both right- and left-handers. It also should give him greater odds of the two from a long-term perspective. You'd think that'd make Newcomb the least matchups-susceptible pitcher, but the knock against him is that he actually has made his big-league living, thus far, feasting upon the matchups. Against sub-.500 teams, he has a 2.33 ERA and 1.20 WHIP in 15 starts; he has 5.32/1.70 numbers in his 13 starts against .500-or-better teams. That's something that has recently struck me about his 2018 success, and I'd like to see more against tougher lineups before moving him up in my rankings.
Pivetta's breaking pitches -- curveball and slider -- do give him a fighting chance here, and he'll move up in my next rankings set. That he's also a National League East pitcher who should capitalize upon a comparably healthy number of favorable matchups helps, but his fastball still simply isn't good enough for me to put him in Newcomb's tier. I think Pivetta is more of a play for K's, where Newcomb should provide a little better balance in terms of ratios. I'd expect it'll be close, though, and will adjust accordingly.
AJ Mass: When it comes to evaluating starting pitchers, I'm of the mind that every starter deserves a few mulligans. After all, over the course of a season, there are going to be a few days where things stack against them -- be it inclement weather, a trip to Coors Field, or simply one of those outings where the slider doesn't slide. The more consistent a pitcher is (at least on the positive side of things -- I mean, a pitcher could be consistently bad), the fewer and farther between these "duds" will occur.
Additionally, if a pitcher starts the season with a clunker, it can easily exaggerate his ERA for many weeks to come. Take Freeland, for example. After his April 3 outing in San Diego (4 ER, 5.1 IP), his ERA was 6.75 and that game was an albatross on his stat line from that point forward. Give him a mulligan on that and he's got an ERA of 2.77 and a .218 BAA.
Newcomb has been even more of a shining star. If he uses his "get out of jail free" card on his opening stinker against the Nationals (5 ER, 4.1 IP), his 2018 season has been stellar in the form of a 1.68 ERA and a .182 BAA.
Nick Pivetta, on the other hand, had his disaster of an outing on May 4, allowing six runs over just 11 batters in Washington. Throw out that sour frame and his numbers improve to a 2.60 ERA and .221 BAA. That's a 1.12 ERA-point difference and 19 full points in BAA.
Compare those numbers to Newcomb's differences (0.71 ERA, nine points BAA) and those of Freeland (0.40 ERA, three points) and I'm expecting a greater degree of consistency from the Phillies pitcher than the other suggested members of this trio.
Kyle Soppe: I have no issue with any of these three, but give me Newcomb over the field. Sure, Pivetta has the strikeout potential and Freeland is rolling (not to mention being a proud member of the elite first name club), but Newcomb has allowed more than two earned runs on just two occasions this season and I'm buying what the Braves are selling in terms of a true playoff contender.
The walk rate is higher than I'd like, but the man has given up just nine hits this month and I'll go ahead and invest in a pitcher that can limit contact. The advanced metrics pass the smell test and with Newcomb dominating high-leverage situations (.164 batting average against), this feels like a pitcher with a low-mid 3.00 ERA with plenty of victories and that'll be enough to win this showdown.